Janesville looking better as planning director retires

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
— People talk about Brad Cantrell's appreciation of aesthetics.

As a city planner, it shows in the little things Cantrell does, such as taking vacation to work at downtown cleanup days or picking up trash on his lunch-hour walks.

And it's shown in the big things, such as spearheading an ordinance that gives the city power to regulate green space and design.

Cantrell has wonderful taste, said Christine Moore, managing director of the Janesville Design & Development Center.

"He doesn't like bad stuff to happen."

The community development director is set to retire after working 31 years in the planning department and attending about 1,500 plan commission, city council and neighborhood meetings.

Cantrell is generally low key and never liked seeing his name in the paper. Those who know him say he prefers consensus to controversy.

"You need to look for compromise," Cantrell said. "One of the things that Janesville is known for, we get things done here."

To that end, Cantrell has for years required developers to hold public hearings with residents so everybody can air concerns up front.

Staff worked with Walmart developers and neighbors for months trying to balance the needs of both, for instance. The neighborhood involvement made the project better, Cantrell said.

Staff also must balance needs within state and local ordinances.

"I know that some people feel that the staff is not working with them, but we are," Cantrell said.

Mick Gilbertson, an architect and member of the Downtown Development Alliance, said Cantrell always has the city's interests at heart but also is willing to work with owners, architects and developers to satisfy everybody's needs.

"He was always very upfront and very clear on what you needed to do to get your project to move ahead," Gilbertson said.

And he's a man of his word, Gilbertson added.

"If he said so, he got it done."

Cantrell, 57, started work in Janesville in 1979 as an associate planner. He was planning director from 1992 to 2005 and then community development director from 2005 to 2010. The new position oversees the building department, as well.

Some of his career highlights include:

-- A zoning overall in 1979.

"I got to know the city in a very, very detailed fashion," Cantrell said.

Almost every parcel was examined and the appropriate zoning designated, sometimes after numerous meetings with property owners and public hearings.

-- Creation of the bike trail, a recreational amenity that Cantrell said puts Janesville on the map.

"We have something that other communities cannot even approach," he said.

-- Heightened physical development standards that the council approved in the early 2000s. The impact can be seen on such projects as the new Menards. City buildings have been held to higher aesthetics, as well.

"We felt that Janesville was lagging behind other communities and that aesthetics are important," Cantrell said.

-- Two comprehensive plans that bookend his career.

The last project, which was recently completed, put Cantrell at odds with farmland preservation advocates. Cantrell recommended—and the council agreed—to include many acres of land as an "urban fringe" area, some of it on prime farmland. Some called it a land grab, saying development couldn't possibly occur in the urban reserve within the 20-year plan.

"Janesville is a growing community," Cantrell said in explaining the urban reserve. "We have to look out in very long range so that we make sound decisions."

Cantrell has a soft spot for the downtown, and Gilbertson calls him an advocate. Cantrell believes downtown aesthetics have improved, and he credits the Downtown Development Alliance.

Jackie Wood has been on numerous committees and boards as a liaison to the city.

"I've felt that Brad has always showed great care and concern for the community and how it looks," she said. "I always felt that he listened to everyone's ideas, got input and always worked hard to get the job done."

He has also worked behind the scenes for historic preservation, she said.

Cantrell said Janesville was a wonderful community in which to practice planning. He stayed so long—he is the longest serving director in the city's history—because of the team of professionals he worked with and because Janesville is a "very special place," he said.

"The community at large has always wanted to make Janesville a better place," Cantrell said.

Last updated: 2:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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